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6 Ways Smart Technology Has Made Things Dumber

#3. Windows

It's almost impossible to understate the impact Microsoft Windows has had on the computing industry, and frankly, the entire world.

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Everything in this picture is running Windows

But for all that, it's also not really a very exciting product, is it? It's there, and it does its job, kind of like a sidewalk or a tree, and that's about all you need to know about it. And sort of like sidewalks and trees, there hasn't been much to improve upon. In fact, ever since Microsoft made a version that achieved sidewalk levels of reliability, there haven't been many improvements to the product worth speaking of. I still use Windows XP to this day on some of my computers and don't miss a single Windows 7 or 8 feature when I'm using them.

Which is great for me but kind of shitty for a company trying to make money selling operating systems.

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"We're thinking something with tiles."

And so Microsoft has attempted to "upgrade" its utterly competent software, by adding features that no one wants or needs or likes because they don't work very well. Two of the last three upgrades have been famously bad. Windows Vista, of course, had enhanced security features that were so cumbersome that the only way to actually use your damn computer was to turn them off. And then there's Windows 8, which has a brand new interface designed for products that no one owns, crammed on to products that people do want to own, forcing them to ignore the brand new interface entirely if they want to do any useful work.

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"I think it's time to admit that we're just not very good at this ... NO WAIT I'VE GOT IT WE INCLUDE A TALKING PAPERCLIP THAT NEVER LEAVES."

#2. Widescreen TVs

The arrival of widescreen televisions ushered in a new, wider era to television, a wideness previously only enjoyed by people who attended the cinema or watched everything in the reflection of one of those funhouse mirrors. Now, with all that extra space, home audiences could finally view movies in the format they'd been filmed in, and Law & Order: SVU fans could finally show us what was happening just past Detective Stabler's shoulder.


Not much, it turned out. But still. Nice to know. Nice not to worry about it any more.

Which sounds great and all, but as anyone who's watched a television over the past 10 years will know, it seems to be messed up almost half the time. The reason is we now have two formats of televisions out there, widescreen and ... thinscreen? No. Squatscreen? Sure. And we also have two different formats of television content. When you get the format of the content matched up with the screen, things look fine, but when you don't, which happens way too often, things get dumb in a hurry. We live in an era of stretched screens, chopped screens, and screens filled with black bars across the top, bottom, sides, or all at once.

And it's actually making our content worse. Consider a piece of content made for one format, converted to the other (at which point black bars are inserted above and below or to the sides) and then back to the original format. You'll end up with content that appears in a stupid little box in the middle of the enormous screen you paid for, an issue called "Postage Stamping." For now this seems to affect commercials more than anything else, but even then it's a hilarious example of technology doing the exact opposite of what it's supposed to.

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"This has ruined our favorite baby-eating-chicken commercial!"

#1. Motion Interpolation

Motion pictures and most regular television is broadcast at 24 frames per second (fps). There's nothing special about that particular number, it was just the format they settled on when the Earth was young. 24fps provides smooth enough movements, and although it doesn't provide the crispest image, it's generally good enough for most viewers.

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"No, this is fine. We're easy."

But there's no reason cameras couldn't also shoot at, say, 48 or 60 frames per second, or for televisions to display the same. And thanks to technology, there's no reason why a television can't take a 24fps image, then interpolate and insert intermediate frames to turn that into a 60fps image. Depending on the TV, this is called "motion interpolation" or "judder reduction" or "silky smooth flow" or some bullshit, and it does, in fact, lead to smoother, crisper motion, especially in the background.

Which would be great, were it not for the fact that this also leads to perhaps the strangest side effect in the history of consumer electronics, the dreaded "Soap Opera Effect."

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Which does not, as you might expect, give every character an evil twin.

To explain this simply, a movie displayed with this motion interpolation looks weird, and even "cheap." It no longer looks like a movie, but like actors moving around on a set. It's actually kind of unsettling, and turning this option off is one of the first things people do when they get new televisions.

So why is this happening? Well there's a couple reasons. The first is that soap operas are filmed very efficiently, using simple and cheap cameras, with all the cost-savings being poured right back into providing the best possible writing for the show. Soap operas have thus long used video cameras, which, instead of the film cameras movies and traditional television shows have used, shoot at 60fps. This results in soap operas having a noticeably different look to them, which fairly or unfairly, some people consider "cheap."

A partial explanation for that is that filming at 24fps allows for a certain blurriness in the end product, blurriness that can be applied for artistic effect. Maybe what's happening in the background isn't the most important thing in a scene and deserves to be blurry? Indeed, this is an effect a director or cinematographer deliberately attempts to achieve with a 24fps camera. Which your idiot television tries to "correct" for them.

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Though if they ever make a television that makes Han shoot first again, we're all on board.




Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and typed this entire thing up on a typewriter, just to be difficult. Join him on Facebook or Twitter when he can figure out how to get those on a Smith Corona.

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